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Cubs establish new mental skills program

Initiative has been a club goal for the last year; sports psychologist Ravizza named consultant

MESA, Ariz. -- Theo Epstein remembers attempts at conversations with players about improving the mental side of the game.

"If you approached a player to talk to them about working on his mental game [20 years ago], his response would be, 'You think I'm nuts?'" said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "You still see that now and then, but that's the exception, not the rule."

On Tuesday, the Cubs announced the establishment of their mental skills program, which will include noted sports psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza as a consultant. Ravizza, a professor of applied sports psychology at Cal-State Fullerton, has worked with Cubs manager Joe Maddon since the 1980s, and got right to work, meeting with the Cubs' pitchers and catchers for the first time on Tuesday.

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Epstein said developing the program has been a goal for the last year.

"More and more players are being proactive and acknowledging that's an area they can get an edge," Epstein said. "As an organization, we do so much to get our players physically ready and physically sharp, to get them fundamentally ready and fundamentally sharp. It would really be a blatant act of ommission and ignorance to just ignore the mental side."

Josh Lifrak is the director of the Cubs' mental skills program and joins the team after spending the last 10 years as the senior mental conditioning consultant at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. While at IMG, he developed and implemented mental skills training programs for hundreds of athletes.

Former outfielder Darnell McDonald was officially named coordinator of the program. He joined the Cubs' front office last year as a baseball operations assistant. McDonald spent 16 seasons in the big leagues.

Rey Fuentes was named Latin coordinator of the mental skills program. This will be his third season with the Cubs and first in this role after two years as cultural programs coordinator.

Maddon said Ravizza's message hasn't changed much since their early days together, but it is a little more sophisticated.

"It comes down to present tense, staying in the moment, understanding it's not always going to be perfect but you can still do well," Maddon said. "[His message is understand] that you're not going to be at your best level, but you can still pitch well and pitch well enough to win. That's condensing it a bit, but it really comes down to that."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
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